Thank You, Jim Gray

My NWP began in 1986 at the invitation of Susan Lytle at the University of Pennsylvania, Graduate School of Education and with the founding of the Philadelphia Writing Project.

As I reflect on Our NWP today, I am filled with gratitude, awe, and renewed commitment to our mission and vision. Thank you, Jim Gray, and all who have taught, nurtured, and inspired me throughout these years. You are amazing.

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My NWP—One Big Idea, One World

“How did I get here?”

It was a thought that both arrested and intrigued me just one month ago, on June 30, a day after getting off of a 19-hour flight from Chicago. I stepped into one of the air-conditioned training rooms at the English Language Institute in Singapore (ELIS) to begin two days of a Visiting Teaching Fellowship where I was to present on the teaching of writing to an audience of over 70 educators including both teachers and members of the Ministry of Education. This Fellowship Program preceded a 10-day Starter Writing Institute that I was going to facilitate as well for its 16 inaugural summer fellows.

As I opened my backpack to take out my laptop, my black moleskine writer’s notebook, my copy of The Essential Donald Murray, and a plastic purple portfolio of handouts describing everything from writing process to writing assessment, both fear and excitement gripped me. I was glad to feel the cool air that helped tame the sudden hot flash.

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A Life That’s Good

I am 30,000 feet above somewhere between Chicago and San Francisco, making my way back from two days of a complete geek out with my Writing Project colleagues. My brain is tired, and the work that has piled up in the office and my email inbox while I was neck deep in the big questions about writing assessment are weighing on me. The drippy wet apartment I am going to have to clean up when I get home is concerning. The fact that I haven’t really been sleeping all week is taking its toll. And yet, it’s time to come clean. I live a life that’s good.

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Teacher as Poet. Poet as Teacher.

Magnetic Fridge Poetry
Flickr photograph by Steve Johnson

I began with poetry. My entry into writing started with rhymed couplets, with Shel Silverstein and Dr. Seuss. And I wrote reams of poems, spiral notebooks filled with lines, and later disks filled with hundreds of word processing documents that stored my free verse, oddly spaced stanzas. I was fortunate enough to have teachers that supported and encouraged my love of verse. Mrs. Zeinstra, my middle school English teacher, who turned us loose on her library of poetry books to find the lines that inspired us. We copied them into our daily writer’s notebooks, selecting one or two to memorize and share. And Mr. Dik, who pulled me aside after senior English class one day to ask if he could help me revise a poem I wanted to submit to a local writing competition. He encouraged me to reflect on my word choices but left authorial decisions in my hands.

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What is My NWP? Thoughts From the Red River Valley Writing Project Leadership

NWP means the world to us. Literally. As three leaders in the Red River Valley Writing Project, located in what was once the tall grass prairie region of eastern North Dakota and northwestern Minnesota, we know the isolation that comes from long winters and a sparsely populated region. Through RRVWP, we connect to each other and to a larger world. We each have a small story about what the NWP means to us—Nancy Devine, our “writer-in-residence,” Pam Fisher, our co-director and outreach coordinator, and Kelly Sassi, our new director.

As a published poet, Nancy’s NWP has writing at its center:

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NWP: Where Teachers Meet True Grit

There are so many stories I could tell of my twenty years with NWP: losing power on my first day of directing a summer institute in a room without windows, sitting next to Mary Ann Smith at my first professional writing retreat, my first Maker Faire with Patty Koller, but instead of focusing on beginnings, I’d rather concentrate on continuing. In a time of data-driven decisions and teacher effectiveness ratings, of pension revamping and scripted instruction, of incessant testing and corporate–driven “reform”, the philosophy of the National Writing Project keeps me in the classroom and fosters my resilience.

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Learning to Listen: A Call for Support of the Writing Project’s Intensive Summer Institutes

The small but heavy cardboard box had been opened, closed, and put aside—part of a larger project to plow through the accumulated debris of twenty-eight years of marriage. Its moving label read “Home Office. Books. His.” My daughter Stephanie called me to ask if I might pick it up as part of my upcoming trip to Berkeley. Why not?

Steph’s husband Mike, mindful of my weak lower back, hefted the box into the back of my car. I’d had no occasion, therefore, to examine its contents until I arrived home later that afternoon and carefully set the unopened box down in the center of our living room rug. The first items surprised and amused me: the “subfusc” gown—a black cotton vest in reality—that I was required to wear while attending tutorials at Oxford;

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Push and Embrace

Over my 36-year history with the National Writing Project, I have participated in a number of cross-site leadership teams for NWP initiatives. Each time I was so grateful (and surprised) to have been invited. It may just be nostalgia settling into my brain for a nice long visit, but for me, participating in the leadership team for two phases of the NWP’s National Reading Initiative (2003-2009) remains a powerful and sustaining experience.

We were fortunate to have inspiring leaders from NWP—Marci Resnick, Tanya Baker, and Elyse Eidman-Aadahl. For me, NRI also provided a lucky opportunity to reunite after many years with Judith Rodby from the Northern California Writing Project, who served as NRI project coordinator. In what seems like another lifetime, Judith and I had collaborated on literacy-education workshops for instructors at the Center for Employment Training, a multi-site job training program in California.

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Flights of Fancy

I love to fly.

Not only does flying get me where I’m going faster, but airplanes have been important sites of development for me as a writer and a teacher leader. In fact, I am flying as I write this, traveling from Colorado, where I direct the Colorado State University Writing Project, to Berkeley, where I now serve on the NWP Board of Directors.

I took my first flight when I was seventeen. Like many first-time flyers, I was astonished by the view from above because I gained a new understanding of the structure of things. In a matter of minutes after take-off, the exit ramps on freeways became four-leaf clovers, rivers snaked through the countryside, and parcels of land made the logic of city planning apparent. Once we reached cruising altitude, I was literally in the heavens, with clouds as my only view.

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My NWP—Collaboration, Audience, and Discovery

Last year I helped facilitate the Making Learning Connected Massive Open Online Collaboration (CLMOOC). We seven facilitators, supported by the team from NWP, aimed to remix the idea of a Massive Open Online Course in order to learn in community about making and learning, and to explore Connected Learning Principles.

In the video below, excerpted from a facilitator’s meeting last year, you’ll hear our team (minus the prolific Kevin Hodgson and Karen Fasimpaur) talking about a need we perceived while pouring through the online discourse of participants. Since we welcomed all to our collaboration, and encouraged them to come and go as they pleased during the 6-week professional learning experiment, we wanted to continue to orient and empower participants who had just logged on for the first time. In the meeting we agreed we needed to remind participants about the different digital spaces where they could post their creations and see the contributions of others. Of course, what did we know? None of us had led online learning quite like this before. The audience for our work was visible to us, since we could see interaction online. Our audience was also invisible to us, since we knew that in addition to being readily accessible online to anyone, what we published through newsletters, a blog site, and social network spaces reached about a thousand email inboxes.

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